Protecting our environment from politics

Every-other year, the landscape of St Augustine and St Johns County is attacked by political signs and banners that do little more than add to eye pollution, distract drivers, and, not the least of which, violate state election laws and local ordinances.

Some homeowners associations and gated communities have been effective at controlling the placement of campaign signs at their pool, clubhouse or on the common elements because signage of any type is prohibited by the community covenants and restrictions.

State laws in Florida are very simple — every candidate is provided that information when they first file with Vicky Oakes, St Johns County Supervisor of Elections. Within the county, the City of St Augustine and the City of St Augustine Beach have additional restrictions on yard signs and distribution of campaign literature. Zoning restrictions in Ponte Vedra Beach, limit signage for any reason, including political campaign signs.

As you drive down US-1, Ponce de Leon Boulevard in St Augustine, along San Marco Avenue, west on SR-16 or West King Street, you might not think there are restrictions at all — especially at busy intersections like SR-312.

Some statewide rules include prohibition of campaign signs on the public right-of-way and tacking signs to utility poles along the side of the road.

You are allowed to place campaign signs, unless otherwise restricted or prohibited by local ordinance, in front of private businesses or homes — but you have to have the permission of the owner. That rule applies to vacant lots, as well.

Candidates are responsible to see that the signs come down within 30-days after the election, unless otherwise specified by the county or municipality.

If you put your trashcan in front of your house, police can search the contents without the need for a search warrant. But, if you put a campaign sign in front of your house, woe be to the soul who takes or damages it; because it is considered “personal property” and a properly filed complaint with local law enforcement officials can lead to an arrest.

“If the rules are violated, it could lead to a fine of $118 for a first violation and $268 for a repeat violation,” Supervisor Oakes warned. “Serious violations could lead to an appearance before the Special Magistrate.”

Oakes said that she directs reports of stolen or damaged political signs to the sheriff’s office for investigation. Likewise, if you see a sign that is in the right of way of a road, you should report that to your city or county code enforcement office.

In the City of St Augustine, code enforcement is handled by the Planning and Building Department at 904.825.1065.

In the City of St Augustine Beach, the Building Official is the acting Code Enforcement Officer and may be contacted through the Building Department at 904.471.8758.

In St Johns County, prohibited signs, special event signs or banners, flags, or balloons, can be reported by calling Code Enforcement at 904.209.0734. If such material is illegally placed in the county right-of-way, they may be reported by calling the Road and Bridge Department at 904.209.0246.

In the unincorporated parts of St Johns County, no political signs are allowed on the right-of-way, and candidates have seven-days after the election to remove the signs.

Within the City of St Augustine Beach, signs can only be put up 10-days prior to early voting, which begins on next Monday, or 20-days before the election. All campaign signs within the City of St Augustine Beach must be removed within 7-days after the election.

Within the City of St Augustine, political signs are not allowed in any of the city’s Historic Preservation Districts (HP Districts) and they must be removed within 7-days following the election. The city codes prohibit handbills and advertisements from be placed on cars, public streets or sidewalks.

Oakes told Historic City News that she realizes, from her experience in previous elections, that misplaced signs can be the fault of fanatic supporters, as well as the candidate themself — however, Florida’s election laws hold the candidate responsible for what’s done with their campaign signs.

Illegally placed political signs that are picked up by code enforcement officers or public works crews, often wind up at the Tillman Ridge landfill; where they may be re-claimed by the candidate.

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